Fgo’s Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost Double Bill Spell a Rare Night of Comedic Opera

For the first time since 1953, Gianni Schicchi — the only comedy Giacomo Puccini ever wrote — will return to the Florida Grand Opera stage. It’s paired with the Florida professional debut of its contemporary sequel, Buoso’s Ghost, by Michael Ching. Ching will conduct both operas, offering a rare opportunity to experience an operatic performance under the baton of its composer.

The traditional production is set in medieval Florence, with sumptuous costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, sets from Chautauqua Opera, and lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins. Noted Chinese-American stage director Mo Zhou will direct. Both operas are one-acts.

Gianni Schicchi (pronounced Johnny Skee-ky) is based on a true incident involving a trickster and the prominent Florence family, the Donatis. The historic Schicchi was a knight, and the famous writer Dante Alighieri condemned him to the 8th Circle of Hell, reserved for forgers and cheats, in his classic Inferno (possibly because Dante himself was married to a Donati). In the opera, Schicchi is a lawyer and, along with his daughter Lauretta, a newcomer to Florence. Lauretta is in love with Rinuccio Donati, but his family views the Schicchis as upstarts and objects to the relationship. When rich old Uncle Buoso Donati dies and leaves all to the church, his scheming relatives are forced to call on Schicchi for help in altering the will before Buoso’s death is discovered. Schicchi obliges, but in helping the Donatis manages to quite literally help himself.

Buoso’s Ghost begins at the moment Schicchi ends. As Schicchi surveys his newly acquired home, where Buoso’s body still reposes, he discovers that the Donatis poisoned the larder.  When the family shows up, planning to beat him, Schicchi facetiously begs for mercy. He secretly tucks a note inside Buoso’s nightshirt. A magistrate arrives and the Donatis loudly accuse Schicchi of murdering Buoso. Again, Schicchi pleads for mercy, managing to whisper to each relative in turn that he knows they poisoned Buoso. They stop their accusations, but the trial proceeds. Just as all seems lost, Schicchi “discovers” the planted note, an erstwhile suicide note written by Buoso himself. Foiled again, the relatives depart, quietly planning to kill Schicchi next. Overhearing, Schicchi blows out the candles and pretends to be Buoso’s vengeful ghost. The terrified relatives flee, and once again, Schicchi is triumphant. 

 “I think the audience takeaway will be a lot of laughs and how to untangle family feud and drama,” says Zhou. “This double bill is a great marriage between these two works. It’s a night of hysterical laughter, but it also shows the heart of our everyday being, facing hard choices personally and professionally. There’s no black and white in the story.” 

Buoso’s Ghost begins the way Schicchi ends,” says Ching, who also wrote the libretto. “I quote the very last few bars and we just pick up after intermission ends with the same music. I use a fair amount of quotation and paraphrase of various styles. People will recognize pieces from the opera repertoire.”

Both operas feature an ensemble cast, and Ching designed Buoso’s Ghost to use the same voice types and most of the same characters as its predecessor. In the title role, internationally acclaimed baritone Franco Pomponi returns to the FGO stage for the first time since 2017, when he triumphed in the title role of Eugene Onegin. His most recent appearances include Seid in Verdi’s Il corsaro with Opera Festival of Chicago and Voltaire, Dr. Pangloss, Martin, and Cacambo in Bernstein’s Candide with Opéra de Lausanne.

Venerable Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano and local favorite Robynne Redmon returns in the role of querulous Aunt Zita. She previously appeared as Madame Larina in 2017’s Eugene Onegin, and has been heard locally as Princess Stella in the world premiere of Michael Dellaira’s The Leopard at the Frost School of Music, where she is on faculty.

Schicchi’s daughter, Lauretta, will be portrayed by second-year Studio Artist, soprano Page Michels, who was seen as Carolina in the Sunday cast of FGO’s season opener, El matrimonio secreto and in the roles of Lucy in Fellow Travelers and A Page in Rigoletto.

Zita’s nephew Rinuccio is played by second-year Studio Artist, tenor Charles Calotta. Calotta appeared in the 2021-22 season as the Young Collector in A Streetcar Named Desire, Borsa in Rigoletto, and Tommy McIntyre in Fellow Travelers.

Bass Anthony Reed makes his FGO debut as the family’s new patriarch, Simone with Eleomar Cuello as his son Marco. Dr. Spinelloccio and Pinellino in Gianni Schicchi are played by Ismael Gonzalez. Jose Vaquez appears as Guccio in Gianni Schicchi and Friar 2 in Buoso’s Ghost, with Daniel Bates as Friar 1.

The remainder of the ensemble cast is filled with Studio Artists, including mezzo-soprano Ashley Shalna as Nella, soprano Erin Alford as La Ciesca, tenor Joseph McBrayer as Gherardo, baritone Matthew Cossack as Amantio di Nicolao,   and bass-baritone Phillip Lopez as Betto. 

“We couldn’t be more excited to present Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost,” says FGO General Director and CEO Susan T. Danis. “Schicchi is a musical and comedic gem that hasn’t appeared on our stage since 1953, and it’s overdue for a revival. Buoso’s Ghost is the perfect complement — every bit as funny, and the audience will enjoy the many classical and musical theatre references in Michael Ching’s witty musical language. Also, people don’t realize how rare and extraordinary an opportunity it is to experience a living composer conducting one of his own works. For me personally, this is a standout moment in the season and a fun, unique opportunity for opera aficionados and newcomers alike.”

Gianni Schicchi is performed in Italian with English and Spanish supertitles. Buoso’s Ghost is in English with English and Spanish supertitles. 

The production plays January 28, 29, and 31 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and February 9 & 11 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets begin at $18 and are available at fgo.org or by calling the ticket office at 800.741.1010.

WHO: Florida Grand Opera

WHAT: Gianni Schicchi  by Giacomo Puccini and Buoso’s Ghost by Michael Ching

WHEN: January 28, 29, and 31 and February 9 & 11

WHERE: Adrienne Arsht and Broward Center for the Performing Arts

ABOUT FLORIDA GRAND OPERA

FGO was founded in 1941 as Greater Miami Opera and Opera Guild of Fort Lauderdale, Inc. in 1994. As Florida’s premier opera company, it presents standard repertoire, contemporary works, new commissions, and original productions — all featuring projected translations in English and Spanish. The mainstage operas of the season include Domenico Cimarosa’s El matrimonio secreto, sung in Spanish translation (Nov. 12 – 15, 2022), Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Michael Ching’s Buoso’s Ghost (Jan. 28 – Feb.11, 2023), Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (Mar. 18 – Apr. 15, 2023), and Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville (Apr. 29 – May 20, 2023).


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